I’m queer and religious: Yes, we exist

Guest post by Aurora
Rainbow church photo by: Free Creative Commons Images for Colorful Souls!CC BY 2.0

For many queer folx, the self-realization of their sexual orientation or gender identity can prompt a change in community. When it comes to faith communities, some drop them like hot rocks, while others turn to more progressive circles. But for some of us? For some of us, there’s a draw to orthodoxy that we just can’t explain.

Are we self-hating?

I think that reparative therapy is the worst idea in the world, and I’m happily engaged to another woman. And yet, I find myself adhering to more conservative religious dress standards and looking forward to covering my hair after marriage. I have seen glimpses of others like me online — the ba’al teshuvah lesbian on Tumblr who actively dates women; the queer “frum from birth” Jew who got a tattoo to commemorate his struggle with traditional Torah observance; the genderqueer Muslim I went to school with who wears a hijab; the Seventh Day Adventist and Pentecostal LGBTQ activists who blog for other queers in their denominations.

The thing about being queer is that it can happen to anyone, in any community — that’s the luck of the draw when you’re born that way. Maybe there’s less support when you stick with something more traditional. Maybe, though, you’re just not looking hard enough if you think there aren’t others like you.

I read an article recently about a gay pastor in a more conservative denomination who kept his sexuality a secret for years, only to find his best friend kept it a secret for just as long. They both found out the other was gay during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s. The pastor questioned his friend, “Why didn’t you tell me? That knowledge could have meant that I would feel less alone.”

It probably confuses some people that a queer or trans* person would involve themselves in a community that isn’t openly accepting of LGBTQ people or rights. In fact, it confuses me sometimes (and I’m one of them). But when you spend your whole life receiving flak because of something that you have no control over, you develop a thick skin. You get used to it. You expect it, even. And so maybe you surround yourself with more progressive work and hobby communities.

Maybe you’re in an area where these things don’t exist, so you just make sure your friends are open and affirming. Or maybe you’re still in the closet, with only your lover bearing your secret with you. But you’re drawn to that ole time religion, and you know, you feel it, that there are others out there like you. Other people in your church or temple or mosque, even. It could be the pastor, it could be the person sitting next to you, it could be the person who decided to beard themselves with a wife and kids. It could be anyone!

A lot has been said in the Offbeat Empire about non-traditional and progressive religions. And they are all fantastic faiths to be a part of (and if you’re an atheist or secular humanist, that’s great too!). But some of us are pulled toward the traditional, the conservative, the orthodox. We exist. We don’t hate ourselves. We had that epiphany where we realized our more traditional interpretation of God loves us as we are.

We practice, we love, we blog, we get tattoos, we cover our hair, we advocate. We prove that there isn’t just one way to be queer, or one way to be religious. We are brave. And sometimes, we shed the labels and we just are.

Comments on I’m queer and religious: Yes, we exist

  1. My first reaction to this article’s headline was “Well, obviously queer religious people exist, because “religious” refers to way more than just Abrahamic faiths.” Kneejerk reaction; huge pet peeve of mine for “religious” to be conflated with “Christian/Jewish/Muslim” — because I am religious and belong to none of those faiths. (Queer too.)

    But, anyway: I understand people wonder how being queer or trans* and a member of an Abrahamic faith could work. It seems a paradox. In my faith, paradoxes are sacred and part of life. And whatever faith calls you is the one that calls you — regardless what various people associated with that faith have done or said about your identity. The gods call who They want.

    • It may have made more sense for me to title this “conservatively religious”. I definitely tried to make it clear in the article that this is referencing more orthodox religions and that it’s totally cool to be involved in a more progressive or non-Abrahamic faith. I definitely love what you said, though – the gods most definitely call who they want!

      • Interesting to note also that some other (also very old, and sometimes very socially conservative) religions of the world also have complicated relationships with LGBT rights.

        A really interesting example is the recognition of something like a third gender (which can also include trans*) people in Hinduism (they are known as hijras). It’s a very complicated status, and they experience their own discriminations – but this is another way in which very conservative religions can be inclusive of LGBT people.

        Thanks for the really interesting perspective, too, OP!

    • I love that you used the word “paradox.” One of my old college papers was a study of G.K. Chesterton called “The God of Paradox.” In my faith circle (conservative/pentacostal/christian), the apparent paradox of God, Jesus, the gospel is celebrated as the great “mystery.” The Christian bible, at least, is full of them: a supernatural deity becoming mortal, Jesus conquering death by dying, defeating evil through self-sacrifice, becoming a “king” but never waging a physical war, the least qualified of men becoming the greatest prophets and leaders.

      I’m not sure if similar philosophies and truths exist in other religions, but I’d love to hear about them if they do!

      This was what ultimate brought me peace at the peak of my personal struggle, with my faith and sexual orientation, the idea that the whole Christian message pivots on the idea that a deity brought peace to a spiritual war through love and self-sacrifice. In particular, the verse that says “He (Jesus) himself is our peace, breaking down the wall of hostility that separated us, destroying the system of the (Mosaic) law within his own body that he might make a new man out of two through his sacrifice” <<I totally paraphrased that πŸ™‚

      Sorry to get overly specific in what may be a more general, philosophical conversation, obviously that passage is not relevant to everyone. But this was a personal revelation that brought me incredibly joy and peace so I wanted to share. If anyone else felt separated from their own faith/faith community, I'd love to hear the teachings and ideas that brought you peace.

      • I was raised Catholic, and my parents (mostly my mother) forced me to get confirmed even though I made it clear I didn’t want to be Catholic (because “You can stop going to church AFTER you get confirmed” makes so much sense, right?). The whole time I was convinced that one of the other confirmation candidates would out me (I was very, very out at school but not at church) and then because I was gay they wouldn’t let me get confirmed and my mom would get mad at me. I ended up coming out to the priest and the director of religious ed and they allayed my fears (they were really chill about it, which surprised me), but what really made me OK with the concept of being Abrahamically religious and queer was a guided meditation we did on our confirmation retreat. It was very emotional for me and I sort of had this epiphany – gay is OK. I knew God loved me, a queer person, and that he had no problem with me or anyone else being queer. It wasn’t any sort of reading or statement that made me belief that, just a sort of… feeling.

        • “It wasn’t any sort of reading or statement that made me belief that, just a sort of… feeling.”

          THIS!! The hardest part of explaining my own “revelation” to my very confused family/friends is the fact that *thing* that happened inside of me, the thing that made everything okay, was not necessarily theological or cognitive, though that’s what triggered it. Although I’ve made a lot of progress understanding the texts, the scriptures to me are incredibly ambiguous. Like you, that “aha” moment for me was entirely spiritual, like everything else important that happened between God and me. And that’s not something I can magically impart to someone else to help them understand. It has to be experienced.

        • I am also a confirmed Catholic (straight). In my time attending, being educated by, and working for the Catholic church I have encountered many very devout, gay Catholics. In fact two of my most influential spiritual mentors and one principal I worked for at at Catholic school were gay. I also attend an urban church that is welcoming to all and has a gay group. In other words, many of the best Catholics I know are gay.

          I know they have all struggled from time to time with their relationship with the faith, maybe that is why they have been such meaningful mentors in the lives of those they advised. I consider myself very blessed to have known each of these people. Partly because they have collectively shown me that there are many beautiful things worth celebrating in my faith, even if I don’t agree with all of the Church’s positions. Life is not black and white.

          I cringe when I hear others lambast the Catholic church for being anti-gay because that has not been my experience at all, despite the Church’s official stance. I am so glad your priest was supportive and that you have found a home in both, seemingly opposed, communities.

  2. I really like this post. I know of some queer religious people, and it’s pretty nifty to hear more of ya coming into the mainstream religious society.

    For the Christian queers out there, I love a quote that Pope Francis mentioned a while ago. “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge him?” It’s nice to finally see the Catholic church opening up a bit more towards lgbt. Plus, he’s right. We shouldn’t be judging our queer friends, but welcoming them with open arms.

    Also, another Christian church that I have been attending (Non-Denominational) is very open towards LBGT. In fact, they never even mention anything about judgment or definition of marriage. Instead, they just talk about love and lessons we can learn from the bible.

    If anything, it might take some time to find the right, LGBT accepted church/temple/religion out there for you but it’s nice to know that such places exist. =)

    • My pastor said something (before I came out at church) that I thought was really cool, he said “Are you gay and christian? Then be the best gay christian you know how to be.” It was incredibly inspiring to me at the time, still is actually.

      Unfortunately, things were not so smooth in practice. He has had a really hard time with it, it seems he cares about the sexual orientation of a Christian a lot more than this statement would suggest. :/

      • I’m sorry that he didn’t continue with that in practice. :hugs: Hopefully in time, more pastors can open up about being nice to lgbt’s AND keeping with that sense in practice.

  3. This is a really interesting piece! Personally, I am an atheistic pagan (which seems to confuse a lot of people, but basically amounts to a view that nature and the universe are amazing, a source of spiritual fulfillment, etc in and of themselves, but that I don’t believe in it or anything else as an actual god/dess or any sort of divinity thing to be worshiped), but religion in general has always fascinated me. As someone who has always been repelled by religious structure (and other kinds of structure that I perceive as rigidity, such as gender norms), doctrine, authority, orthodoxy, and so forth, I am very curious what draws people to that type of environment or belief system. Could you elaborate more on what you mean when you say you are drawn to orthodoxy and why you think that is? If you’re genuinely not sure, that’s fine; I just really enjoy hearing people’s perspectives on these things. πŸ™‚

    • Identifying as an atheistic pagan totally makes sense to me! I have a friend who told me once that she is an atheist in terms of Abrahamic religions but agnostic in terms of pagan/Pagan religions. There are so many different ways to describe faith and religion… “henotheistic” is a favorite term of mine; it was originally coined to describe early monotheism, which is to say that a person can worship one god while still believing that others exist (versus the “there is only one “God” ” line of thought). I would imagine that when the term first appeared there was the underlying assumption that one god was the right god and the others were wrong, but I like to think of it in more modern “whatever floats your boat” terms πŸ™‚

      I think you said it best yourself – some people are drawn to structure and rigidity because it suits their personalities and their way of thinking better. To me, there’s something beautiful in the more traditional laws and structures and I feel closer to God when I embrace them. Those little rules that you follow, because sometimes you are making more of a conscious decision to follow them, really can make you think. For me, as a queer person, I embrace the challenge of and see the fun in adapting very traditional religious doctrine (which, like you said, can be very gendered) to suit my needs and my identity. For instance, I dress modestly according to Orthodox Jewish/traditional Christian standards: sleeves to my elbow, skirts only, and skirts to at least the knee (I don’t know if any of you have ever seen “19 Kids and Counting”, but the Duggar family pretty much does this, although they are OK with short sleeves). For a while I was debating whether or not I was genderqueer (I came to the conclusion that I’m not, and I identify as a cisgender female), and so that was really interesting when it came to adapting this traditional modesty to suit my needs (and it also brought up the really good question of “why the hell aren’t skirts considered gender neutral?!”). I hope that answers your question! I, like you, am fascinated by theology in general and I love to chat about this kind of stuff πŸ™‚

      • Oh, that is really interesting! It does a reversal of the more usual agnostic about an Abrahamic god, and atheism or view of pagan/non-“big 6” (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism) as mythology. Mostly when I come across people who are agnostic, they are just more generally agnostic, but still tend to view non-“big 6” religions as myths. And many atheists I know are much more…I don’t know, hard-line about it, I guess. It’s interesting to me, because they’re almost religious about their non-belief, and it strikes me as kind of funny that they have simply traded one set of strict rules for another (ie, a lot of them are like, “You and your religion are WRONG,” rather than just, “I don’t personally believe in anything.”) It’s hard to discuss religion with some of them because they don’t view it as valid, which I think is just as bad as a fundamentalist who says, “Worship my God, or you’re going to Hell/insert inflammatory statement here.” There’s a lot of arguments made for religion being the source of human suffering and inflicting of harm… personally, I just think that’s human nature at work, and that if it wasn’t religion being used an excuse, it would be something else. But I suppose that’s a whole other can of worms, heh. Anyway!

        I haven’t heard the term, “henotheistic” before, but it describes several of my friends’ views to a T with the more modern interpretation you give it. I like it. πŸ™‚

        I can see thatβ€” like dressing a certain way is a reminder of your faith and of God? It’s interesting you bring up modesty in particular, since I know that’s a hotly debated topic. I think what gets missed on the discussion of modesty on both sides is that it’s not (or shouldn’t be) about policing women’s sexuality. A muslim woman I discussed this with said that the reason she preferred to dress modestly and wear a headscarf was because it was a visual display of her devotion to Allah, not because she felt she had any obligation to censor herself to “avoid tempting men.” I thought that it was a really great point, because both sides of that debate love to talk about oppressing women, and they are either for or against doing so, and they both end up ignoring the women’s own views and opinions, instead projecting their views onto them. And the women end up voiceless, or at least talked over so no one hears them. I can’t stand the arguments that argue for modest dressing because women are supposed to be “more pure” (whatever that actually even means) than men, and therefore are responsible for the sexual behavior of men. It’s the same set of assumptions that says that women wear makeup only for the benefit of men, or wear or do anything only for the benefit of men. To be crass, the world does not revolve around the collective male boner, or any individual male’s boner.

        You mentioned that you were questioning for a while whether you were gender-queer. How did your religion play into sorting through that? I imagine it must have been pretty tough to think about. Personally, while I am female in sex and use female pronouns because of my sex, I don’t really identify as feminine in gender. Or the masculine gender, for that matter. Both of those feel constraining to me. It’s a bit of a dilemma, because I enjoy a lot of the trappings of femininity (skirts and makeup mostly), but I’m not a feminine person. Does that make sense? I’ve never considered myself gender-queer though, because I feel that would be appropriating a label from a group that has been oppressed in ways I haven’t, due to my physical presentation. I dunno. It’s complicated enough as it is, and I imagine, at least for me, religion would make it even more complex. Did religion make it easier or harder for you to figure that out?

        Indeed, why aren’t skirts considered gender neutral? I think it’s just a manifestation of the fact that our society deems “masculine” things good and “feminine” things bad. It’s okay for women to wear pants because it is “masculine,” so women are trading up in status. It’s not okay for a man to wear a skirt though, because that’s “feminine,” so he is trading down in status. Societally, we value men more than women, so to see a man voluntarily give up some of that status is a huge slap in the face to that system. It calls out inequality the way that a woman wearing pants really doesn’t.

        But yeah, I think you answered my question wonderfullyβ€” thank you! And sorry my response is so long (and with so many more questions, ha!) I haven’t really gotten a chance to talk to anyone about these sorts of things in a long, long time, so this is really refreshing. πŸ˜€

        • “I think what gets missed on the discussion of modesty on both sides is that it’s not (or shouldn’t be) about policing women’s sexuality.”

          THISSSSSS 1000x THISSSSSS

          For me, dressing modestly is about me making a choice about my body that makes me feel good. Whatever another woman wants to do with her body is her business. More clothing can be just as liberating as a lack of clothing, so long as you’re doing it for yourself and not so that you’re “tempting” or “not tempting” men.

          As far as the genderqueer debate? What you are saying about gender makes TOTAL AND COMPLETE SENSE. And I wouldn’t worry too much about appropriating the label of genderqueer just because you can pass as cis (although, I’ll be honest, that was a concern of mine too!). There are a looooot of situations where a person is part of a marginalized community and can pass as someone with privilege, and that sort of brings up a lot more issues of being marginalized not only by the group with privilege but by the marginalized group as well! It’s complicated.

          That being said, religion didn’t play into the decision making process all that much, surprisingly. I mean, it affected whether or not I wore pants, but my gender and sexuality are inherent parts of me that I can’t change, where as faith is something I choose to embrace and cultivate. Because they’re on different spheres like that, they don’t always intersect. Maybe that’s why I can so easily embrace faith traditions that are traditionally homophobic? Because it’s not just about feelings or faith or doctrine… it’s about separating something you can’t change from something you choose.

          • Exactly! Our sartorial choices (and other choices!) do not have to be about men, and in fact, are not most of the time. It is beyond frustrating that society makes the opposite assumption.

            I’m glad it makes sense! Sometimes I worry that I just confuse people with it, heh. I think many people struggle to work outside of the imposed binary structure. Like, they may understand the idea of being trans* because it still may adhere to the masculine/feminine binary (though it obviously depends on the individual in question). But people who fall outside of that binary are harder to “get.” And yeah, I’m trying to get past my issue with using the term genderqueer, but I just have this feeling about taking up a term and a place on the alternative spectrum when I get cis privilege every day, and will continue to because of how I like to dress. It just feels so wrong to me to use a term like that when I don’t share the same struggles and experience of oppression that everyone who presents differently does. One of my best friends is FTM, and he has experienced some absolutely horrific treatment because of it. I think seeing him struggle may influence my feelings about adopting such a term for my own use. And while I do end up feeling marginalized by both groups, I can’t help but feel like it’s not that big of a deal for me to be sort of stuck in the middle when people like my friend have faced down death threats and physical violence, you know? Mostly I just stick with saying that I don’t view myself as really having a particular gender and leave it there, even if I would like to be more explicit.

            On the religion front, that makes total sense. I hadn’t thought about that way, in that mutable/immutable fashion, but it seems so obvious when you point it out. Thank you for sharing your insight! πŸ™‚

          • TOTALLY resonated with: “More clothing can be just as liberating as a lack of clothing, so long as you’re doing it for yourself and not so that you’re “tempting” or “not tempting” men.” For me there’s also a practical element.

            When I lived in India I wore the salwar kameez (baggy pants, long shirt) with long sleeves. My dupatta (scarfy thing) was often worn up over my head or covering my face because IT KEPT ME COOLER. More clothes were breeze and my pale scalp didn’t burn when I was covered. And I didn’t have to wear sunglasses because I was wearing a thin veil over my face. It had nothing to do with dudes (though it did provide the benefit of not being catcalled in certain situations)…it was a practical thing to do, like cowboy boots on a ranch…

          • Erin, I wonder whether you might be more comfortable with the term “agender” β€” Urban Dictionary defines it as “Without gender. Often used as an identification for people who do not identify with or conform to any gender.” It’s not as broadly-used as “genderqueer” (partially because it’s a narrower definition), but from what you’ve said, it seems to fit your description of your own identity.

        • Erin, As a holder of Christian beliefs, but not a ‘practitioner’, if you will, your first paragraph had me mentally screaming ‘YES! THIS!’. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve struggled so long to say (and even when I say it right, I’m just blasted with how wrong I am). Thank you for letting me know it’s NOT simply me being defensive or overly sensitive about my beliefs, it truly is a ‘thing’, and there are others who see it who can’t be accused of being defensive or overly sensitive.

      • When I was still actively church going, I went to a ‘rock and roll’ service on Sunday morning, and Mass on Sunday evenings. I loved the upbeat variety that matched my vibrancy and the liturgy that reminded me of the daily rituals (like brushing my teeth) that are so a part of life. Your comment reminded me of this whole finding and fitting in places based on our personalities!

        • That matches my guy’s and I’s church schedule to a t! Well almost. We switch up between a rock and roll type non-denominational service and a Catholic mass weekly. Keeps both of us happy, and both fit us

          For those still looking for a religion/church/temple/mosque/coven/etc, it takes time to find the right one. It took us about two years to find two churches that we both liked and matched our values. But, it’s totally worth the wait. =)

    • I’ve always said, a bit jokingly, that if I were not raised Christian, I would probably be a pagan or some form of wiccan, though, to be fair, I only have a cursory knowledge of those precepts. But what I do know, I find fascinating and compelling (in particular, while I’ve never been a duotheist, the merging of the sexes within a deity is important to me. In order to be the god of everything, god must reflect all of us, male/female/genderqueer/neuter/etc). I’ve always wanted to explore my fascination and find out why these teachings speaks to me despite (or because of??) my Christianized cultural upbringing.

      I don’t consider myself much of an orthodox person, I think I’m too contrary. The inherent rigidity of dogma just screams at me to be challenged (even if I agree with it!). And yet, I’ve never been able to shake the core of my beliefs that keeps pulling me back to organized religion. While the trappings may be debatable, the idea of an Ultimate Truth and a Definable God(s/dess/head) rings a bell in my spirit so I keep coming back to it. Truth matters and some things must exist independent of my perceptions. If you can handle the rigidity of orthodoxy, there are some truly great philosophies and teachings that kind of transcend the legalism, and that’s always exciting to me.

      • It’s interesting you say that, because I actually think there are a TON of similarities between Christianity and Wicca in particular. Before I became an atheistic pagan, I first felt drawn to Christianity, then Wicca because so much of the gendered stuff in Christianity bugged me (among other reasons, but that was the biggest one). I actually eventually left Wicca behind as well because of the binary manner in which gender was treated, which was virtually identical to the way gender was treated in the Christianity I experienced. The similarities between the two existed in other ways as well, which I think is part of why it made a great stepping stone on my personal spiritual path. My eventual personal rejection of any kind of faith or worship started when I started thinking that there was no way I could conceive of a god or spiritual being that was truly complete because of the limitations of my humanity. Since then, for me, whether I can conceive of such has begun to matter less, and I’ve decided to not believe in any divine being and just appreciate what I can know and understand about the universe. I think it’s simultaneously really cool, scary, amazing, and humbling to think about how tiny I am in the context of everything that exists out there. πŸ™‚

        Haha, I know what you mean! My parents would tell you that I’ve never had much regard for rules for the sake of rules, or authority for itself either. I always wanted people to justify rules and/or their authority, and prove to me why they were right. Still do. πŸ™‚

        I think I intellectually understand what you mean about the idea of Ultimate Truth, though it’s not something that has an innate call to me on a personal level. I agree of course that things exist outside of my everyday experience, but for whatever reason, that doesn’t lead me back to religion. I totally get what you’re saying though. πŸ™‚

        • That’s very interesting. My biggest struggles have had to do with gender-roles and sexuality as well. While I’ve never felt like anything but a cisgender female, I’ve definitely felt like I wasn’t a very “good” (in terms of successful, not morality) female, like I didn’t know how to do it “right.”

          My own spiritual journey has been a battle, for sure! I feel like, if you take the religion-specific language out of “my story,” it becomes a fairly common, if not universal, experience. I’m a big believer in connections, with other humans, with the world we live in, with the worlds beyond our world, if they exist. The Greater Story, if you will.

          While I’m a very rational, intellectual human (thus the need to question EVERYTHING!), my heart/spirit screams out for the kind of food that my brain can’t create: Unknowables and Something Mores

          These ideas are a little bit scary to The Church, because they smack of New Ageism and relativism. But, to me, my faith and my God have always been big enough to handle these kinds of questions, doubts, and ideas. But the rules, the limitations, and the absolutes have never seemed like “God” to me, just tools and phases that He used when they made sense. The absolute truth: the thing that ties me to you to that smell in the air to Planck’s constant, to my dead grandfather, I never felt compelled to divorce that from the god of the bible.

          Honestly, my image of god probably looks very different than most other Christians’. But from the time that I was a kid, that’s always how I’ve seen god, even while I was going through Confirmation (I never finished it, FYI).

          • Ha, I know what you mean by not feeling like a “good” female. I felt like that for a long time before I finally realized that the biggest reason I felt that way was because I didn’t view myself as feminine, or any particular gender in fact. The experience is different for everyone though, and with all of the craziness that is thrown at women, it is easy to see why anyone who identifies as a woman would feel like they are “not doing it right.”

            Yes! I also think that everything is linked somehow. For example, I find it incredibly cool that we are all basically made from stars, and the atoms in all of us are billions of years old, and we’ve all been, and will continue to be, part of something bigger much bigger than ourselves. πŸ™‚

            I think your concept of god sounds really interesting, and definitely different from many Christians I have met (I also live in the Midwest/Bible Belt though, sooooo). I do think that it sounds similar to the way that god is looked at in the church my parents attend though, which is UCC. If you are interested in any sort of organization, you might look into that denomination. Of course, every individual church community is different, but it’s something to consider if you’re interested. πŸ™‚

        • Erin, I read this today and thought of you and this conversation. Math has never made me feel so inspired before πŸ˜‰

          “Pi is an infinite, nonrepeating decimal – meaning that every possible number combination exists somewhere in pi. Converted into ASCII text, somewhere in that infinite string of digits is the name of every person you will ever love, the date, time, and manner of your death, and the answers to all the great questions of the universe. Converted into a bitmap, somewhere in that infinite string of digits is a pixel-perfect representation of the first thing you saw on this earth, the last thing you will see before your life leaves you, and all the moments, momentous and mundane, that will occur between those two points.

          All information that has ever existed or will ever exist, the DNA of every being in the universe.

          EVERYTHING: all contained in the ratio of a circumference and a diameter”

    • I’m not LGBTQ but I think I can answer your question because I’m pretty liberal, so it often surprises people to learn that I am a practicing Catholic. In the West we tend to see the rules of organized religion as restricting our individual freedoms. This view has a great deal of validity and in no way I am negating the seriousness of abuses that happen in the name of organized religion.

      However, the other side of the coin that often gets forgotten in the West is that such rules can actually FREE you. For example, for Catholics at Lent there is a rule that you either give something up or devote more time to your community. Following this rule requires me to examine my life and ask myself about negative habits that I might have (ie. eating too much chocolate or spending too much time on Facebook) and making an active decision not to engage in those behaviours during Lent. Now, you could argue that I could just decide not to go on Facebook or eat chocolate at any time, but it is actually easier to do these things during Lent than at other times. This sounds corny to say, I know, but it is a lot easier to give up chocolate for Jesus than it is to give it up just for myself. That is because I am doing it for a reason that is bigger than just me, and I know that people the world over are doing the same thing. That lends a sense of holiness to the self-denial, and the simplicity of it is enjoyable in itself.

      Alain de Bouton is an atheist who argues quite magnificently on this point: he says that cultural messages about virtuous living rarely come up organically in the secular world. You do better when you have a religious calendar that reminds you to contemplate certain virtues. What organized religion does, he points out, is to provide us guidelines by which we can pursue holiness and self-betterment. Do these messages come to us in the secular world? It is possible to find them, but you have to go looking for them. Organized religion hands it to you, along with a ready-made community and a sense of being part of something bigger than yourself. Here’s a link to his brilliant TED talk on the subject. (Ironically, his talk has only served to make me more religious than to become an atheist!)
      http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_atheism_2_0

  4. I’m bi and Catholic (although I am engaged to a man, so I’m not out to my church community). I truly believe in God and the sacrifices of Jesus–what I don’t believe in is a lot of the conservative BS a lot of modern Christian denominations are spewing. Jesus was pretty much a radical liberal–basically a hippie. Love others unconditionally? Care for the sick? Give to the poor? EAT WITH SINNERS???? I’m convinced that if today’s conservatives actually met Jesus, they would be shocked.

    I have a lot of issues with the greater Church, but I feel that the best way to make changes is to do so from the inside. The Bible doesn’t really say…well, ANYTHING about sexuality, particularly in the New Testament. So I just try to love and care for others, do my own liberal queer thing, and lead by example.

    • I think one of the cool things about Catholicism is that (theoretically) we take each story in context of the whole, and try to extrapolate the stories and metaphors into our personal lives.
      I always find it suspect when someone uses the Bible to back up hate or discrimination. So many of Jesus’ stories are about overcoming discrimination to just be a good fucking human being.

    • I kinda feel like if a lot of today’s conservatives met Jesus, they’d call him a communist hippie &$*#%(#%&$ and tell him to get the hell of their lawn.

    • Elizabeth, I completely support your rights to hold your liberal Christian beliefs. As a conservative Christian, I was offended by the way you worded your comment, specifically calling other people’s belief/theology BS. What I love about this post and the comments is that it shows the liberal/conservative mixture in religious beliefs. I can whole heartedly agree with you that Jesus would be considered a radical liberal for his stance on love and I can embrace my conservative beliefs as well (we’d all be shocked if we met Jesus in person for some reason or another). Faith truely is a personal journey and we all need to respect those we don’t agree with. Who knows we might even learn from each other πŸ˜‰

    • Yeah! Jesus didn’t say a word about queerness, and yet that’s what a lot of Christian conservatives are up in arms about that. Jesus did have things to say against divorce, but there such are a lot of divorced Christians! (Not against divorce at all – it is often necessary – just against the hypocrisy of focusing so much on one and not the other.)

  5. Totally agree that these are not exclusive elements….any portions of the bible that suggest taboos also are part of the “God’s Big Guide to Living In the Desert,” which may need to be taken with a grain of sand.

  6. I don’t have anything to add, but I just wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading this conversation so far. It’s interesting, respectful, intellectual, and inspiring. Thank you!

  7. A woman in my community is about to publish a book that is about being brought up an Orthodox Jewish man, and transitioning to become an observant woman. Her website is here: http://www.yiscahsara.com/

    Cool woman. I met her when she’d transitioned genders and was returning to religion. She dressed in very secular trendy clothes, then, as she found more accepting spaces in the Jewish community, her dress changed to more carefully fit the modern orthodox sense of modesty in dress. She’s in a rare position to be a woman who has a deep knowledge of Talmud from her years at yeshivah. An opportunity that women don’t typically get!

  8. Thank you for sharing! I identify with a lot of this as well. I actually came into religion later in life, so I don’t even have the “excuse” that I was born into it and I can’t leave. But at the same time, while I don’t consider my draw to faith to be particularly conservative, there are definitely “old-school” elements that I really love – I’m in the process of exploring, but I’ve been really drawn to the liturgy and mysticism of the more liturgical denominations like Catholicism, Anglo-Catholic Episcopalianism, and Lutheranism. I’m lucky that one of my first church experiences was working at an Anglo-Catholic church with an openly gay priest (who is also one of my favorite preachers of all time), but it’s been a struggle to realize that I may well settle into Catholicism, and even Pope Francis isn’t exactly amazing on some LGBT issues (although I’m willing to compromise somewhat, even if my progressive “cred” is questioned because of it).

    And then, to make matters more complicated, I married into a Seventh-day Adventist family (fortunately, of the more progressive, but still fairly mainstream, variety). So I’m about to go off and Google the blog you mentioned, because I’m thinking that’s right up my alley. It’s definitely been a struggle to both sit by when folks at the SDA church mention “hating the sin, but loving the sinner” (I’m not completely out and pass as hetero as I’m a bi woman married to a man), but at the same time really appreciate the nurturing and otherwise welcoming community that the church represents, especially since so many of the folks there are the people who saw my husband grow up from childhood, and supported him and his family a lot along the way.

    But yeah, I think queer people of faith come from all sorts of shades and colors of our beautiful rainbow, and even for those of us who dabble with (or full-on participate in) the more conservative parts of it, it’s possible to live and love and still be true to our spiritual needs.

    • The group that the Seventh Day Adventists blog for is called Believe Out Loud, and they have a Facebook page you can “like”. I love reading the articles and they have bloggers from all different backgrounds and denominations.

  9. I think you just gotta do spirituality however you feel you gotta do spirituality.

    Honestly, even though I feel in tune with the main tenets of most major religions (“hey let’s love each other and not be dicks”) I feel uncomfortable with a lot of the followers and their attitudes, and for that reason I don’t think I could ever feel comfortable belonging to a church, unless it was a very unique one. I’m not even queer or otherwise outwardly “objectionable”, I just feel funny being in an environment where certain views I am appalled by tend to be vehemently held. I think if you can abide it enough to practice your faith anyway, you are quite brave… and if you’ve found a religious community that’s actually supportive, you are super lucky as well πŸ™‚ Either way, that’s wonderful, and more power to you!

  10. Aurora, this was beautiful. I loved it (& suspect you knew I would).

    I’m going to admit, I always feel a bit like I’m cheating, somehow, when it comes to conversations about how stereotypically conservative faiths and queer genders & sexualities can intersect. I was raised in an agnostic household & pretty much always knew that I was an atheist & that I was attracted to folx of multiple genders. I always knew I wasn’t my assigned gender since I learned that gender existed. And my conversion from atheist to theist, mash’Allah, was like flipping a switch. I’ve never struggled with being a queer GQ Muslim because I always knew it was ok to be; if it wasn’t, Allah (swt) never would have led me to Islam.

    What I have struggled with is finding a place for myself in within my faith community. But it turns out there is one, & nothing feels more perfect when you find it. I’m glad to know so many people have found it, too.

  11. Thank you for this. As someone who strives to follow Christ and who strives to make people of all genders and orientations welcome in the flock, I really appreciate your post.

    And I appreciate it on a much more selfish note too. I’m older, decidedly not politically progressive, and most certainly a staunch believer in that ol’ time religion, and there are times I am very aware of the fact that I am not the target demographic for this site. And it can be a bit . . . . saddening at times that the assumption is offbeat = progressive, not-traditionally-religious, can’t cook, mid-20s.

    So it’s nice to be reminded that I belong here too.

    • RE: offbeat = mid-20s

      HA! I turn 40 next year, so my mind is slightly blown that there’s an assumption that offbeat = people 15 years my junior. On the whole, I’d say the only personality traits consistent between Offbeat Empire readers is a commitment to tolerance, curiosity, and civil communications.

      Remember: the best way to ensure that you feel like you belong here and that voices like yours are represented, is to submit a guestpost! http://offbeathome.com/submissions πŸ™‚ This isn’t just for you, LXV… this is for anyone who feels like their perspective isn’t a part of this site. We can’t share it, if you don’t submit it!

  12. “We had that epiphany where we realized our more traditional interpretation of God loves us as we are.” <– This. All of this.

    I'm religious and not queer, but it's apparent to me that God doesn't ask for perfection. He asks for a relationship. It doesn't matter to God (only to people trapped in their own bigotry) what your personal inclinations are. They're secondary to a hunger for a deep relationship with God. However you define your God.

  13. I’m going back through old Off Beat Home posts and found this. Being a non-traditional Christian (I was sort of not really raised Christian, church on special holidays, but made the decision for myself).

    I’ve never really thought that people who were non-CIS couldn’t have faith. I was always more concerned that they would have trouble finding a place to worship (I know I do and I’m pretty CIS female! God forbid my husband doesn’t go to church and we don’t have kids).

    To be honest I love to see that there are LGBTQ+ Pentecostals! I love knowing that every faith has people of all gender identities celebrating their faith. So awesome!

  14. I posted this to the Facebook page, but I thought I’d repeat it here.
    This reminds me of my favorite theology author – Henri Nouwen. He was a gay man and a Catholic priest. He suffered from depression and many mental problems, but he found a place with God, all the same. I really recommend Life of the Beloved as a read for anyone who is Jewish or Christian and feels broken in any way (or not). I was given a copy on a retreat while I was at L’Arche Greater Washington, DC, and I grew so much in my faith reading it.

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